Crisis learning


Helena Ingram, Actuarial Mentoring Programme lead on the IFoA’s Diversity Advisory Group, and IFoA Lifelong Learning Board member, blogs on how the coronavirus crisis could lead to a more inclusive approach to learning.

Sometimes, change happens quickly.

The COVID-19 lockdown forced overnight transformations in the way we work. 


The IFoA converted all its April 2020 exams apart from CM1&2 and CS1&2 from an in-person, exam centre experience, to a virtual offering.  Most candidates who were registered for an exam which was converted to online format opted to go ahead and sit their exam, and these candidates have now received their results.  For the September sitting, all exams will be delivered online, including CM1&2 and CS1&2.  This is a remarkable transformation accomplished over a time period of just a few weeks.  A total of 2610 students provided feedback on their experience with the April exams (a 37% response rate), reporting a satisfaction with the exams just below the satisfaction rating reported for the September 2019 session, but in line with that for the April 2019 session. The detailed feedback provided is invaluable as IFoA staff work to refine the process for September 2020 and beyond. The changes made for April 2020 were challenging for all those impacted, but the outcome is positive in that they are likely to have minimised the potential detrimental effect on expected qualification times and the consequential career prospects of a whole generation of actuarial students. At a time when schools and universities have been hit hard, this is a cause for celebration.

“Privilege is invisible to those who have it” (Professor Michael Kimmel)

Employers have also moved quickly, strengthening their IT systems and moving away from face-to-face meetings in favour of video conferences. This gives us an interesting dynamic. Actuaries based away from the key financial hubs are now interacting on level terms with colleagues located in centres that have traditionally offered greater opportunities for physical meetings; and those colleagues based in the key financial hubs have been given an uninvited but beneficial insight into the other side’s perspective. And seeing situations from the other person’s point of view is the only way to move from believing that you operate in a meritocracy, to truly understanding the advantages you may unwittingly be enjoying, and to embracing real inclusion.

Actuarial Mentoring Programme

The actuarial profession’s mentoring programme (AMP) launched for its third year just ahead of lockdown being introduced in the UK. AMP year three supports 91 mentoring partnerships and 20 organisations are involved.  In a typical year, the AMP would include a number of events where mentees and mentors would attend in person and learn from keynote speakers and mentoring experts.  This year, events have been moved online, and early indications are that engagement has increased:  the numbers dialling in for and actively participating in sessions using online chat are higher than the numbers previously attending in person.  A newly-introduced online learning platform is adding to the connectivity and accessibility of the programme.  Will this expand our imaginations for year four?  We are vocal in promoting the benefits of the cross-organisational nature of the AMP – could it extend to be cross-territory too?

Learning and development

And let’s not forget the impact on internal developmental programmes.  Initially, in the interests of keeping momentum and providing a quick fix, many colleagues with learning and development responsibilities will simply have recorded webinars instead of running classroom-style training sessions.  And then felt a sense of relief when the recordings worked and uploaded successfully to a shared platform!  But as we move on from the initial phase of lockdown into what looks likely to be a prolonged phase of limited office use, prior to entering whatever becomes the new normal, we should start to be more creative.   We need to feed the curiosity and inspire the minds of those who look to learning and development experts to equip them with transferrable skills to meet the changing demands of their careers.  We need a mixed set of resources, from online classrooms, virtual interactive tutorials, and peer-group project learning, through community chat rooms, and on to reading recommendations, webinars, and self-study.  There will be many outcomes from our current crisis; one of the good ones could well be that we accommodate more successfully the varied learning styles of our colleagues, and bring a new creativity to our learning products.

There’s a journey ahead of us, but the destination is clear: we have the opportunity to arrive at a new and exciting world of learning and development.